America’s 60,000 pig farmers are dedicated to raising healthy animals to ensure a safe food supply. Today, that commitment means placing a high priority on using antibiotics responsibly for the health of people, pigs and the planet. As this year’s U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week and World Antibiotic Awareness Week, Nov. 18-24, gets underway, America’s pig farmers want to highlight their ongoing efforts to achieve excellent antibiotic stewardship and their determination to always seek improvement.
“Using antibiotics responsibly is something that pig farmers are doing every single day,” says David Newman, a pig farmer from Arkansas and the National Pork Board president. “Antibiotic Awareness Week is a good time to reinforce this stewardship by reviewing herd-health plans and the best practices found in the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) certification program. It’s also a good time to involve all animal caretakers and continue to raise their awareness about the role they play in responsible antibiotic use.”
Directed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week raises awareness of antibiotic resistance risks and the importance for all sectors – human health, animal health and the environment – to use antibiotics responsibly. An estimated 300 organizations participate in Antibiotic Awareness Week, including federal agencies, health departments, professional societies, corporations and advocacy groups. The CDC’s year-round effort includes its education program – Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care – that addresses all antibiotic uses (#BeAntibioticsAware).
“Resolving antimicrobial resistance is a shared goal across human, animal and environmental sectors and a great example of the One Health global initiative,” adds Heather Fowler, DVM, director of producer and public health for the Pork Board. “All of the different antibiotic-user groups came together and are committed to addressing antimicrobial resistance. For their part, U.S. pig farmers are thinking innovatively about how they can help ensure that antibiotics remain effective for everyone.”
Fowler points to the industry’s PQA Plus program as a practical way to address all areas of on-farm pig production, including a section dedicated to responsible antibiotic use, public health and animal care. Now in its third decade, PQA Plus trains and certifies pig farmers and their employees on best practices.
Antibiotic research is another priority for U.S. pig farmers. Through their national Pork Checkoff, nearly $2.5 million has been dedicated to antibiotic research over the past five years. Just this year, $400,000 in Checkoff funds were dedicated to research antimicrobial resistance and on-farm antibiotic use.
To further leverage research dollars, the Pork Board recently joined the International Consortium for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Agriculture (ICASA), a public-private partnership created by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. Among its objectives is to advance research on antimicrobial stewardship in animal agriculture. ICASA’s membership includes businesses throughout the supply chain, such as McDonald’s, JBS and Tyson.
“This is another way to partner with other organizations with a shared interest in antimicrobial research and to multiply research dollars,” Fowler says.
Throughout the year, the Pork Board maintains a direct relationship with the CDC, participating in meetings, presentations and direct dialogue on antimicrobial issues. In fall 2018, the CDC established the AMR Challenge, asking organizations to commit to specific plans to combat antimicrobial resistance. The Pork Board designated education and outreach activities, which included a farm tour this past summer for public health officials.
“We brought the public health officials to a farm to see pig production firsthand and to see how pig farmers use antibiotics responsibly every day,” Fowler says. “The farm tour, which we hope to conduct again in 2020, also encouraged open dialogue.”
Committed to monitoring outcomes, the Pork Board continues to work on developing metrics to document responsible antibiotic use on pig farms. The goal is to benchmark use, identify areas to improve, reinforce training and show progress in overall antibiotic stewardship.
“Pig farmers have a positive story to tell, and Antibiotic Awareness Week is a good opportunity to share our message with the public,” Newman says. “From herd-health strategies to biosecurity measures, to daily care and management, we are committed to continuous improvement and doing what’s right for the health of people, pigs and the planet.”